Sixteen trillion dollars. 16 trillion dollars, friends.
Let me be clear: this is not a partisan post. This post will be factual and objective. It will also be sobering. The outstanding public debt of the United States of America is now almost the 14 digit $16,000,000,000,000.
Now for those of you who equate any accounting with an obscure foreign language, allow me to first simply explain the difference between our deficit and our debt. The deficit is the fiscal year difference between how much the government takes in verses how much it spends. The debt is the accumulation of these deficits. In other words, to amass a debt of sixteen trillion dollars, the United States government has been spending beyond its means for years. It is our pattern. (Warning: this next sentence will be opinion…) This pattern of spending beyond our means for years is incredibly foolish.
(Now back to facts.)
When we objectively ask what has contributed to this massive, almost unfathomable number (and avoid analysis via any partisan filter), we must evaluate the annual deficits under each administration. In order to compare apples to apples, so-to-speak, the deficit is expressed as a percentage of our country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Again for my foreign language avoidant friends, GDP is the total value of all the goods and services produced in a country in a given year.
So comparing our past presidents’ deficits (since dollar amounts would be an inaccurate comparison), going back to 1968, U.S. presidents have amassed the following annual deficits as a percentage of GDP: (the more negative the percentage, the larger the deficit)
Richard Nixon -1.6%
Gerald Ford -3.5%
Jimmy Carter -2.4%
Ronald Reagan -4.3%
George H.W. Bush -4.3%
Bill Clinton -0.1%
George W. Bush -3.2%
Barack Obama -8.3%
(Source: Office of Management and Budget)
Now each president gives us their justification for why the deficit has to be so large; some presidents like to give us that justification over and over… and over. For Pres. Bush 43, it was the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For Pres. Obama, it is the “worst recession since the Great Depression.”
The Intramuralist has 3 concluding opinions: One, I’m tired of the justifications. Two, many fairly loud critics should be much more thankful for one William Jefferson Clinton.
For the last 3 years, we have not made any progress in lessening the deficit and lowering our debt. I remember VP Biden’s public address where he said we have to “spend more money to keep from going bankrupt.” With all due respect to Joe Biden, we have spent more money for far too long, and if we continue this pattern, we will go bankrupt.
This is not a partisan question; it is a serious, sobering, nonpartisan question. Who has a plan to pay down the debt? Who will do so aggressively? Who will not get caught in partisan politics and political power plays? Who will recognize that this is most important?
As Condoleezza Rice exhorted last Wednesday night, “When the world looks at us today, they see an American government that cannot live within its means. They see a government that continues to borrow money, mortgaging the future of generations to come. The world knows that when a nation loses control of its finances, it eventually loses control of its destiny. That is not the America that has inspired others to follow our lead.”
Let me add one more opinion: if we cannot solve this fiscal crisis, cliff, or whatever any pundit desires to call it — just like any financial entity or household — we will cease to exist. No entitlement will matter. No social issue will matter. If we don’t exist, no issue matters. Pick your passion… abortion, gay marriage, gun control, this rhetorical war on women, healthcare, defense spending, social security, you-name-it. With all due respect — regardless of the position of your passion — none of these will matter if we don’t get our fiscal house in order first.